5 Commonly used Chinese herbs for balancing health

5 common chinese herbs

by Robert Wulforst

Many of the herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are used in the kitchen in daily dishes.  Depending on the season or certain illnesses, such as colds, there’s always something to cook to help you feel better.  My wife and I were talking about this the other day and what herbs could people benefit from the most at home.  To keep things simple, I’d like to suggest five herbs that are easy to get at a local Asian market or online in dried form.

These five herbs are:

Ginseng (Rén Shēn - 參)

Astragulus root (Huáng Qí - 黃耆)

Angelica root (Dāng Guī - 當歸)

Wolfberry (Gōu Qǐ Zǐ - 枸杞子)

Walnut (Hú Táo Rén - 胡桃仁)

5 common chinese herbs

You’ve probably heard about a couple of these herbs already from online or at an organic market.   Ginseng has obviously invaded American culture and you can find it in bottles of tea or soft drinks at the Supermarket.  Strangely enough, the ginseng listed as an ingredient in these drinks really isn’t “true” ginseng at all, but a cheaper root variety that’s only known as ginseng in English.  Wolfberries, lycium berries, have also started to become more popular of late, found in a dried form.  Walnuts can be picked at any supermarket shelled, unshelled, halved, or crushed, and is commonly used in baking.

The other two herbs, Astragulus and Angelica root, while not commonly known in the American kitchen is always present in a Chinese one.  It’s used in cooking meats, soups, and even some vegetable dishes.   Since a meal can consist of more than five dishes, it’s not surprising to have them in more than one.  This is also true for wolfberry as well.  Walnuts and Ginseng are used less and for more specific dishes.

Ginseng, being the most popular herb, helps to strengthen the whole body.  Although it was mentioned earlier that there are different varieties, each type help a condition in its own special way.  Ginseng is considered a treasure and it should be used to its fullest to not waste any of its nutrition.  It’s never cooked by itself, as it’s considered bitter, but cooked along with something else.  It can be made into a soup, cooked with chicken or beef, or steamed with rice in a cooker.  Either way will allow the flavor of the ginseng to permeate whatever your cooking it with.

Using Chinese Ginseng in cooking (Panax Radix Ginseng) helps to strengthen your overall constitution.  Red Ginseng (Hóng Shēn - 紅參) has a warming function and is good for use in the winter.  American Ginseng (Xī Yáng Shēn -西洋參), an offshoot of Ginseng, helps to generate liquid in the body, which is useful in the summer when it’s hot.  It’s also considered a Yin nourish herb that can help strengthen the body in old age.

Next is Astragulus (Huáng Qí) and Angelica root (Dāng Guī).  Astragulus root helps improve a weak constitution and immune system, and is used much the same as Ginseng.  It has a sweeter flavor and can make cooking with other herbs more palatable.  Angelica root is used more for improving conditions related to the blood, such as anemia and menstrual problems.  

Combined, Astralagulus and Angelica root form a TCM formula called Dāng Guī Bǔ Xiě Tāng (Angelica root to supplement the blood - 當歸補血湯).  Used at a 5:1 ration (1g of Dāng Guī requires 5g of Huáng Qí), this formula can help with anemia, postpartum irregular menstruation, palpitations, certain headaches and dizziness related to blood flow, and numbness related to blood flow.

Wolfberry (Gōu Qǐ Zǐ) has been recognized and used in TCM for an extremely long time.  The Jīn Guì Yào Luè (Synopsis of the Golden Chamber - 金匱要略), a book compiled by Zhāng ZhòngJǐng (張仲景) around 200 AD and published in the early Song Dynasty (900 AD), used Wolfberry as a treatment of thirst from Diabetes.  A simple tea was made from a handful of berries, where the user both drank the tea and ate the berries daily.

Today, wolfberry is classified to help with conditions where blood nourish or supplement an organ.  For example, blood help to nourish the eyes, the tendons, and the muscles.  Therefore, wolfberry can help with soreness in the back and legs, as well as certain eye conditions, like blurred vision or night blindness.  It is rarely used with Diabetes, but it can help with a dry cough as it can help moist the Lungs.

Lastly, Walnut (Hú Táo) can help strengthen the legs and back, frequent urination, wheezing from too much exertion, and constipation.  It is also believed that walnuts help you remember more, as the walnut looks like a brain.  In TCM, they help supplement the Kidney Yang, which is believed to help improve memory.

From the function of the herbs listed above, you can help yourself with a number of possible problems.  Ginseng and Astragulus root can help build up strength and the immune system.  Astragulus and Angelica root can help with blood and menstrual disorders.  Angelica root and wolfberry can help with blurred vision, night blindness, and menstrual issues with back pain.  Wolfberry and walnut can help with wheezing from too much exertion, sore back and leg pain, cough, and constipation.  Of course, you’re not limited to just two herbs.  You can add all the herbs together into a chicken soup for a nice healthy broth.

about the author,

Robert Wulforst, a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. Author of the book "Root within the wind", a book about traditional Chinese "Push Hand" exercise. Find more at www.RuYiAcupuncture.com.